JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An African-American preacher once popular in preaching circuits of the Southern Baptist Convention pleaded guilty May 21 to molesting a 15-year-old girl and sending lewd text messages to another at his former church.
Darrell Gilyard, former pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., faces three years in prison in a plea bargain. His official sentencing is June 11. After he is released from prison, he will serve three years probation and be required to register as a sex offender.
Gilyard, 47, was arrested Jan. 14, 2008, on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct after a church member told police she found inappropriate text messages from Gilyard on her daughter’s cell phone. Another girl recorded alleged sexual conduct with Gilyard in her diary.
Gilyard resigned the large, predominantly African-American congregation after 15 years. Before that Gilyard was mentored by a number of high-profile leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who promoted him as America’s next great black preacher.
Gilyard rose to fame in the 1980s with support of future SBC presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. His testimony about growing up homeless and sleeping under a bridge in Palatka was distributed in video form by Jerry Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour” before unraveling when a newspaper reported that he actually grew up in the comfortable home of a woman who took him in as an infant and raised him as a son.
Gilyard’s relationship with SBC leaders soured in 1991 when he resigned under pressure after admitting to several adulterous affairs with women he was counseling while pastor of a multi-racial SBC church in Richardson, Texas. Paige Patterson, at the time president of Criswell College in Dallas, counseled Gilyard to stay out of the ministry two years, but he ignored the advice and started a new church two weeks later with 125 former members of his previous congregation.
Dallas Morning News articles in 1991 reported allegations of sexual misconduct by Gilyard not only at Victory Baptist Church, but also at three previous churches in Oklahoma and Texas.
The articles included claims by one woman that she told Patterson in 1985 that Gilyard tried to rape her, and Patterson told her and other women with similar complaints to refrain from speaking about it without substantial proof.
Those clippings resurfaced in 2008 when a support group for victims of clergy sex abuse accused Patterson of turning a blind eye to Gilyard’s behavior, thereby enabling him to hurt others. Patterson denied mishandling the situation, saying he severed ties with Gilyard as soon as he had evidence that the allegations against him were true.
A woman who claimed she resisted sexual advances by Gilyard when she was 18 and a youth leader at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville in 1991, started a blog in 2008 urging others with similar stories to come forward.
Tiffany Thigpen Croft said in a recent posting she was not rejoicing about Gilyard’s downfall, but she labeled him a sexual predator and said he should suffer consequences for his actions. Croft said if Gilyard had not been sentenced “I am confident that there would be more victims.”
In April Gilyard settled a lawsuit with a woman who claimed he sexually assaulted and got her pregnant, but a paternity suit against him continues. According to the Florida Times-Union, an earlier sexual misconduct case against him was settled quietly by his church for $300,000.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)